Pulse of the People

The Black Forest Fire acted as a beacon, calling a community well-acquainted with the isolation of suburbia together despite our separation for a common cause. After watching the Springs community come together in both the physical world and online, perhaps reconnecting suburban landscapes via the Internet can create a more intimate sense of community across the globe. Accordingly, I’d like to discuss different ideas to allow more interconnection and the free flow of important information within our locales. Each item on my list contains an example of ways regular citizens can take part and reconnect with our surrounding communities.

Friends and toddler walking the dogs1. If you don’t already, start talking to the neighbors. This can be very difficult at first, especially when you’ve shunned them in the past. However, the feat remains possible. The best thing to do is begin smiling at them or waving congenially when you see them driving by, bringing in groceries, or working in a flowerbed across the yard. If they are struggling with some task, offer to help.

*Note: this may also require some unobtrusive spying to understand the targeted
neighbor’s schedule, but try to avoid acting like the NSA. You might scare someone.

2. Check to see if the local police force and fire department have a presence on Twitter. If they are, follow them. If not, write an email or letter suggesting they establish a network on Twitter to share information more easily during times of crisis. Every community should be prepared for the worst, just in case it actually happens.

*Note: if the Zombie Apocalypse comes, even Twitter won’t save us, but hey, we can
watch, Tweet, and comment on Facebook about it, right?

3. Volunteer for a local nonprofit. Often, the National Council of Nonprofits in each state is a great place to start. The project doesn’t anything big: maybe a weekend helping a local library repaint their children’s area or helping with a food drive would be something to interest you. Further, keep in mind that many nonprofits are terribly understaffed in the administrative area, and if you have a specialized skill set, chances are some nonprofit’s CEO would be extremely grateful for some know-how in that area of expertise. Just call around and ask a few agencies what kind of volunteers they need. This is always a guaranteed way to tap into the pulse of your community.

*Note: The point here is not to just give money, even though cash is often much appreciated by nonprofits. To connect, many of us need to see and experience the nonprofit’s mission personally in the real, physical world. Even if you only provide an introduction, write a letter requesting funding, or attend a fundraising dinner or celebration, actually gazing into others’ eyes can make the difference for true community engagement.

"Matthew Mansour, Good Knight and Jouster" picture from clatl.com. Click image to view the Good Knight's interview with Michelle Ye Hee Lee.4. Go to a local festival. Most states and cities have excellent cultural festivals. Colorado has several, and I always enjoy going to my favorite ones. You could choose anything from a dog show to a gun show, or even the county fair. Surf online to discover the  festivals that sound most interesting, and then plan a day trip. Most cities have webpages listing community events, so the information is fairly easy to find.

*Note: Don’t dress up as a Borg at the Renaissance Fair. Well, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy kids staring in horrified fascination as your makeup melts under the ferocious summer sun.

5. Watch a local band perform. Colorado has great local bands, especially in Denver, and so do most other cities. Many local artists will travel to the outlaying, smaller towns as they work through small tours, so check for any out-of-town shows. This will not only be a great night out, but you’ll get to watch live music, learn about the local music scene, and mingle with music lovers and carousers.

*Note: If you get wasted, don’t puke on the lead guitarist’s shoes. That’s a surefire way to piss off your local music scene. Of course, if he’s in a punk band, you might find yourself inadvertently volunteered to enter the mosh pit, in which case you should be ready to receive some blows.

6. When you go shopping or out to eat, pay attention to the employees. Although studies illustrate and discuss how cheerful employees often create customer contentedness, many larger corporations don’t privilege employee happiness. Whether at Wal-Mart or Neiman Marcus, in the drive through or that favorite swanky restaurant, remember that employees are not servants. They’re people, and they’re doing a job you probably wouldn’t want to perform. Although these folks are paid to work, an attentive customer saying more than “Hi,” “Bye,” or complaining might just make them feel appreciated. It might also improve the level of service you receive.

*Note: Smile at them. A genuine customer smile can brighten any employee’s day. Just don’t leer or act creepy unless you want to be escorted out of the facility by security.

7. When driving, if someone has a flat or their car has broken down on the side of the road, stop and ask if they need help. Usually, they will be frightened, worried, and stressed, yet all they may need is a friendly voice asking if they require help. Even your cell phone could be useful if they need to make a phone call.

*Note: Don’t just drive by and flash your brights at them. They already know their car isn’t working. Blinding the poor souls will not help in the least.

8. Treat everyone you meet in the community with compassion, even those who have nothing. Homeless live in every city, and their lot is hard enough without scorn, derision, and disgust. These folks are human beings, and they deserve to be treated as such.

*Note: Compassion goes a long way. Just a kind word, a smile, and eye contact, which let people know you see them, can make their day more bearable. In addition, many folks don’t expect compassion, so you’ll always surprise them when you greet them with kindness. Is there really anything better than a pleasant surprise?